May 2021

The Digital Leap

Rachel Mills, Head of Dance at Ålesund Cultural School, tells us about her experience of teaching and learning from a secluded Norway town.

The 12 March 2020 is a day I will never forget. Norway was shut down, and we were sent home from the studio wondering what was going to happen to our livelihoods and most importantly, our students.

The first couple of weeks were spent sending homework tasks to keep the students dancing and motivated but we quickly realised that they were losing motivation and missing the contact with their teachers and each other. As the dance world collectively struggled with this unprecedented situation, it soon became clear that there was one solution that could bring the students together with their teacher for a live class where the teacher could see all participants, and Zoom became the industry standard almost overnight. We soon found that the students had adapted to dancing at home and we were able to continue their learning journeys.

The global dance world is already small and well connected through social media, and suddenly people were thinking differently about how to deliver dance and make it accessible for everyone. As a lifelong learner, I was suddenly able to follow classes all over the world, one absolute highlight being a tap workshop with the amazing Chloe and Maud Arnold from my garage in the middle of the night. I do wonder what the neighbours thought of all the noise!

I have been living and teaching in a very small town on the west coast of Norway since 2003 and in that time I have often felt very cut off from the Society. There are no courses locally in Norway as we are so few teachers, so my options were to travel to the UK (easier said than done with differing term times and two small children) or to ask visiting examiners for coaching.

Over the years, I have been extremely blessed that most of the visiting examiners have been very happy to offer coaching on the end of my exam sessions, and that has been a lifeline. It has allowed me to keep up with the syllabus updates as well as afforded me wonderful opportunities to work one to one with some extremely experienced and well respected teachers. But the opportunity for this came around at most once a year, and I always felt I missed out on the social and networking opportunities of going to a course.

It was my dream for a long time to attend the Chichester Summer School but as the timing meant that this always fell during our start of term, there was never an opportunity... until Coronavirus changed everything. The pandemic has brought so much pain and suffering, and I expect for many of us international teachers, the awful uncertainty of not knowing when we can come home and see our loved ones.

But surely, the best thing to come out of it is the fact that the Society CPD courses have gone online! Finally I was able to attend the summer courses (squeezing sessions in between meetings and teaching). I have also been able to attend more courses throughout the spring, as well as a wonderful webinar lecture on the effects of ageing in dancers.

International members meetings have also gone online, and it was wonderful to attend one of these, see some of the other teachers working in northern Europe, and finally put a face to the name of my Examinations Officer Chelsea Fox who has been so incredibly helpful in the planning of our remote exam sessions. All of these things have made me feel so much more connected to the Society. There are some faces that you see again and again at the courses, so i'm sure that we will feel like old friends when we all finally make it to a physical course again.

Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing have really been at the forefront of developing accessibility driven by the pandemic. I hope and believe that the benefits of all these developments are so great that the Society will continue to deliver online learning opportunities in the future. It is truly life changing that teachers living far from central areas, and those with demanding work and family commitments, are also able to tap into the amazing knowledge and learning that the Society faculties offer us.

Thank you so much to all of you, office staff, lecturers, and fellow teachers!

Article by Rachel Mills, Head of Dance, Ålesund Cultural School/Ålesund Ballet School.

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